Players who have been at Lei-Out and other ultimate tournaments in California are probably familiar with the E.R.I.C logo, but many may have not received the full story of what the organization means. E.R.I.C. for Early Recognition Is Critical, Inc. a 501cC3 non-profit organization co-founded by two friends and ultimate players, Jim Gerencser and Cassandra Palo, after cancer dropped into their lives simultaneously.
On April 11, 2012, Jim’s son, Eric, was diagnosed with a tumor in his abdomen—he was just 19 years old. Subsequent testing and a biopsy determined that the tumor was caused by Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) Burkitt’s. Eric’s cancer was then staged at stage 2; it was early and had not spread to other organs. NHL-Burkitt’s is an extremely aggressive cancer that largely strikes young people. Treatment also needed to be aggressive and included chemotherapy in the form of IV drip as well as intrathecal chemotherapy where they removed 5cc of spinal fluid from Eric’s spinal cord and replaced it with 5cc of chemotherapy drugs. On Eric’s second day of treatment, April 24, Cassandra’s mother, Mary Lea, died from pneumonia caused by Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Mary Lea’s cancer was not caught early enough for treatment to be effective. By the time her cancer was diagnosed the previous January—prognosis was stage 4—the cancer had spread through her body, including her lungs. Mary Lea’s lifetime dream had been to start a 501C-3 and make a difference in people’s lives. Her death marked the passing of the torch to realize her dream and gave the Gerencser/Palo crew more reason to pull up their bootstraps and fight cancer. 12 spinal taps, multiple blood transfusions, weeks of scary hospital stays, and 6 months later, Eric was officially in remission!
The E.R.I.C. mission is to spread youth cancer symptoms awareness through Ultimate Frisbee. Jim and Cassandra wanted to create a foundation that would honor Mary Lea’s dream and give Eric a project to work on that would give him the platform to give countless other people hope in regards to this monstrous disease. Early Recognition Is Critical is a product of a passion for ultimate and the genuine belief that play, body awareness and detecting cancer early are vital aspects of having a good chance for survival. For them, spreading the word enough to inspire even one person to seek medical help is success.
The E.R.I.C. message is “Speak Up! Tell Someone!” and works on the assumption that cancer is not an automatic death sentence or a taboo. Youth cancer is almost never a matter of lifestyle (like smoking or eating poorly) but largely a genetic anomaly that comes out of nowhere unexpectedly. Cancer doesn’t have any set number of symptoms, rather general symptoms might occur at random. Body awareness and activity are paramount in knowing if symptoms are persistent or worrisome. Some general symptoms of cancer are: unexplained weight loss, muscle fatigue, general fatigue, fever, pain, skin changes, changes in bowel habits or bladder function, sores that do not heal, white patches inside the mouth or white patches on the tongue, unusual bleeding or discharge, thickening or lump in the breast or other parts of the body, indigestion or trouble swallowing, recent change in a mole or wart or any new skin change, nagging cough or hoarseness.
E.R.I.C. is deeply involved in the ultimate community: founder Jim played in his first Open National Championships in 1980; he credits ultimate and the uUltimate community with helping him through tragedy in the early 80s when he suddenly lost his father (1980) and brother (1982). Cassandra was exposed to Ultimate through Jim in 2009 and fell in love with the Ultimate Community and how the game was self-regulated. She says, “It’s the combination of those two elements—the call-your-own-shots-spirit-of-the-game combined with the deep roots that Jim’s long-time passion for the sport had created—were the deciding factors in creating our mission.” In just two years, with a shoestring budget and no paid staff, they have grown an organization that has sponsored several teams, a national coaching event, youth clinics, tournaments and rapidly gained recognition in the ultimate community at large. Notably, Tom Kennedy (founding member of the UPA) and Kurt Gibson (San Jose Spiders and cancer survivor) sit on the board of directors.
Located in the San Francisco bay area, E.R.I.C. found an instant ally in the Bay Area Disc Association. Through connections with members of Bay Area Disc, Jim and Cassandra were introduced to a true local hero—the late Eric Arons. Eric was living through his fifth year with a malignant brain tumor. A former member of the board of directors for Bay Area Disc, he teamed up with his friends to create Huck Cancer when he was originally diagnosed. Huck Cancer is a one-day hat tournament wherein participants raise money for cancer charity (Livestrong SF, CA /E.R.I.C. Dallas, TX) The torch has been passed on: the fifth, annual Huck Cancer tournament in San Francisco was successfully held on March 1. Arons gave Jim and Cassandra his blessing for E.R.I.C. to hold Huck Cancer in Dallas, spawning the Dueces Wild: Huck Cancer 2 Hat Tournament, which is set to happen this Saturday, March 22.
The ultimate community can best support E.R.I.C by taking part in sponsored events, donating money, and keeping an eye out for symptoms of cancer in themselves and their friends. For more information about E.R.I.C., check out the website, Facebook page, and twitter account.
Skyd thanks E.R.I.C. founders Jim Gerencser and Cassandra Palo for their contributions to this article.